The Kinsey Collection: Re-Discovering America

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Family’s African-American treasures will remain on display at Disney’s Epcot Center through 2016

BY PENNY DICKERSON
SPECIAL TO THE FLORIDA COURIER

Florida has never been humble when it comes to acclaiming it historical relevance and worth.

St. Augustine is globally recognized as the nation’s oldest city and in 2013, it served as the hub for Viva Florida ? the 500th anniversary of the state’s founding. Partnerships were organized by the Florida Department of State and Florida Humanities Council to ensure the quincentennial overwhelmingly commemorated the European discovery of America.

“Re-Discovering America: Family Treasures from the Kinsey Collection” brings to Epcot important African heritage art from the collection of Bernard and Shirley Kinsey, shown with their son Khalil.
(COURTESY OF KENT PHILIPS)

But St. Augustine native Shirley Kinsey had a more important discovery, partnership, and rich legacy to applaud that same year.

On March 8, 2013, she was joined by her husband, Bernard, and son, Khalil, for the Epcot Center debut of her family’s private, cultural inheritance – the Kinsey Collection which represents over
The groundbreaking exhibit showcases rare art, documents, books, and artifacts and is titled “Re-Discovering America: Family Treasures from The Kinsey Collection.”

Collaborative efforts between Walt Disney World and the Kinsey’s, now allow guests visiting the theme park’s American Adventure pavilion to enjoy a new and relevant journey “between the pages” of history..

150320_metro03cThe back story
The Kinsey Collection is no stranger to public view. In fact, more than 4 million people in over seven U.S. cities – including the Smithsonian National Museum of American History – have viewed the collection.

“We always wanted to extend the reach of the collection to a larger, more international and diverse audience,” explained Bernard Kinsey. “So we are delighted to be collaborating with Disney to share the stories of our remarkable ancestors.”

But the concept was five years in the making before it was fully realized. According to Kinsey, the Disney journey started in May 2008. The collection was installed at the Norton Museum of Art in West Palm Beach when he contacted his good friend Bob Billingslea, former vice president of Corporate Urban Affairs and Minority Outreach at Walt Disney World and invited him to see the exhibit.

“He was just blown away,” stated Kinsey, “And from there, Billingslea began the process of moving things through a vast network of Disney executives.”

‘Powerful collection’
Another African-American Disney executive integral to the project’s advance was Carmen Smith, vice president of Creative Development of Walt Disney Imaganeering.

150320_metro03bSmith, along with 20 theme park executives, traveled to the Kinsey’s Los Angeles home where the original collection is housed in a converted wine cellar. Equally impressed, they gave the green light to build a custom gallery displaying 40 of the collection’s 400 items for a three-year installation running through 2016.

“We are thrilled to bring the Kinsey Collection to Epcot guests,” said Jim MacPhee, senior vice president, Walt Disney World Parks. “Epcot is such a rich cultural tapestry that it serves as the perfect showcase for this powerful collection, with its celebration of the human spirit.”

History displayed Disney style
Consistent with an interactive experience to involve visitors, Disney Imagineers created a classic gallery setting complete with touch screens and “guest-activated lanterns” – symbolic of the freedom trail which enhanced the heritage experience. Actors Whoopi Goldberg, Kerry Washington, Chandra Wilson and James Pickens, Jr. are among A-list celebrities whose voices narrate.

The exhibit honors five distinct themes: Hope, Courage, Belief, Imagination and Heritage.

A few examples on display in the Hope showcase are the 1773 book of poetry by 19-year-old Phillis Wheatley, the first African-American ever to publish a collection, while Courage displays the Harriet Jacob’s 1862 book, “Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl.” A personal Heritage item dear to Shirley Kinsey is an old sewing machine (1900) passed down through generations by her grandmother, Susie Plummer Pooler.

More items added
Successful negotiations extend the collection at Epcot through 2018 and last spring, additional images, artwork and artifacts related to watershed moments in American history were added. They include “Noon Wash” by contemporary artist Jonathan Green whose work is inspired by his Gullah ancestry, “Songs of the United States from 1867,” Tintype photographs popularized in the mid-1850s, and more.

“The Kinsey Collection shares the powerful and previously untold stories of those who dared to dream,” said Erin Youngs, vice president of Epcot. “Representing more than 400 years of African-American achievement and history, the Kinsey Collection showcases the best of the American spirit with a nod to ingenuity and innovation. We are delighted to expand the exhibit and bring even more of these treasures to Epcot guests.”

Education first
Bernard and Shirley Kinsey are Florida A&M University alums who met during the civil rights movement. They are both Xerox Corporation retirees who learned early to master the art of saving and their philanthropic efforts have helped raise more than $25 million to support HBCUs.

A partnership with Disney is driven by one, single goal: to educate.

Broaching 50 years of marriage, the nostalgic couple has one son, Khalil, whose curiosity about his own heritage at a young age inspired the family’s collection. He currently serves as general manager and CEO.

Essential to their collection’s presence is a 198-page, self-published, coffee table book, “The Kinsey Collection,” that has been approved by the Florida Department of Education to teach K-12 history. Distributing material under a self publishing banner makes sense as it allows creators to maintain autonomy and avoids influence and input from an overbearing publisher.
Bernard Kinsey summated the family’s stance.

“When you understand African-American History from an African-American standpoint, it changes you fundamentally, in terms of who you are and where you come from. All of us have holes in our hearts because we don’t know who we are or from where we came.

“It’s not a Black thing or a White thing or a Latin thing or an Asian thing. You’re different because the African-American story is the story of America. We’ve been a part of everything that has happened in this country all the way from Patagonia to Canada, so what the Kinsey family is trying to say is, we were there. We were there and we matter.”

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